Alumni Notes

Losses/Memorial Minute

David Andrew Love

David Andrew Love, born May 6, 1940, a native of Norwich, England, took two bachelor’s degrees at the University of Bristol, England: high honors in philosophy and English literature in 1963 and high honors in philosophy in 1964. (Both, he would later inform/remind us, were equivalent to master’s degrees in America.) He came to the United States in the mid-1960s for graduate study in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. David and I were graduate students together there. I joined the faculty of Oberlin College in 1967, and he came to Oberlin in 1970 after appointments as head of the humanities and social studies department of the Upward Bound Program at Virginia Union University in the summer of 1968 and as instructor in philosophy at Duke University in 1969-70. Before that he was a film critic for the Oxford Mail, a British newspaper. David’s dissertation, for which he passed the preliminary examinations in May 1969, concerned the concepts of promising and obligation, with special attention to the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. His dissertation advisor was Professor David Falk.

David’s extraordinary teaching talent was apparent from the outset. Students, including the very best students, gravitated to David as to a magnet. It didn’t hurt, of course, that he had a wicked wit, was extremely personable, obviously fascinated by Oberlin students, and had a charismatic classroom persona. Students recognized in him a superb teacher. Several of his colleagues in the philosophy department and other departments and programs (principally in the late 1970s, when he was attempting to give shape and direction to the old humanities program), had occasion over the years to team-teach with David. All were privileged to observe his unusual ability to draw out students’ ideas, from their early, chaotic, formless, incoherent beginnings through to almost unrecognizably clear, cogent development.

This talent, this finding, developing, shaping the quality in others’ thinking, also served David in his later administrative work. Many of the faculty who approached him in his role as grants officer, with vague, unclear, and not-very-persuasive proposals, walked away with elegant, polished applications that secured funding in important competitions. He could even perform this Socratic midwifery (assisting at the birth of ideas) upon entire faculty committees, a most unusual talent. In May 1977, David delivered a senior assembly talk by invitation of the officers of the senior class, an honor extended only to teachers thought to be the best of the best.

Later, Dean Robert M. Longsworth created a “position” for David called consultant to the teaching faculty, recognizing his unusual abilities as a teacher and as a tactful, diplomatic, congenial colleague. The way it worked was this: faculty whose teaching could stand a bit of “consulting” were brought into contact with David, who, after reassuring conversations, managed to be invited to observe their classroom performance. Then David gave advice and consultation, with good effect. It was all very low key, very informal, but it recognized both the importance that Oberlin places on high quality teaching and the unique talents of David Love. Faculty anywhere will recognize the delicacy of such “consulting.”

In addition to pedagogical mastery, David had an acute philosophical mind that impressed all who came into contact with it—students in classes, seminars, and tutorials; colleagues in team teaching and in faculty research seminars; and visiting philosophers and speakers in question-and-answer exchanges. As one of his senior administrative colleagues would put it, as a philosopher/teacher David was “the real thing.”

David’s talents soon led him into academic administrative work. In the early 1970s he was invited to become (one-third time) assistant to Oberlin College President Robert W. Fuller. Some will remember that time as a turbulent period in American higher education, a time when senior academic administrators needed all the help they could get. David teamed with Karen Burgess Buck ’72 in 1972-73 as a recent-graduate/younger-faculty team that served ably and well.

Thereafter he became assistant provost (1978-84), associate dean of Arts and Sciences (1980-86), associate provost (1984-94), director of Sponsored Programs (1984-2002), and associate vice president, Research and Development (1994-2002). In these various jobs, he became an astute budget manager, a thoughtful curricular innovator, an inspired grant proposal developer, and an effective academic resource-entrepreneur.

To think of David merely as a fundraiser or development officer is to substantially underappreciate the unique combination of qualifications, talents, and experience that he brought to this work. Imagine what it must have been like to be a program officer at a private foundation that aimed to support quality education in the liberal arts and sciences.

Here was David Love, a charming, witty, obviously intelligent and cultured representative of a leading national liberal arts college who spoke the gospel of the transformative value of American liberal arts undergraduate education in a delicious British accent. Furthermore, he had a reputation as a brilliant teacher and was able to speak authoritatively of curricular matters from years of having been elected by the faculty to (and often chairing) the College’s Educational Plans and Policies Committee.

In addition, he had detailed knowledge of individual faculty research interests from working closely with faculty as the grants officer at Oberlin. Plus, he wasn’t just an administrator or grants specialist or former faculty member. He still taught courses in philosophy. For a period beginning in the late 1970s, he was partially released from administrative duties to teach one course each semester. Later this happened less regularly (but not rarely). Thus David was an active teaching member of the faculty, not only talking the talk.

It was almost unfair. The poor (soon to be poorer) foundation didn’t stand a chance. Among the curricular innovations and improvements in which David played a central role were the visit of actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company in the late 1970s; the establishment of the Office of Undergraduate Research; development of Oberlin abroad programs in London, China, and Strasbourg; the seminar program for first- and second-year students; and faculty development and student research and teaching assistantships funded by the Charles A. Dana Foundation, Inc., Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ronald E. McNair Program of the United States Department of Education, Ford Foundation, BP America Corporation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. David also played a major role in establishing and strengthening Oberlin’s environmental studies, neuroscience, and East Asian studies programs. Among his most significant accomplishments was his recent service as science project executive, in which he initiated and coordinated faculty, staff, student, and architect efforts to design, plan, and construct the new Oberlin College Science Center.

In 1984, when I joined the dean’s office, David had already been associate dean for four years. It was great to work closely (again) with my old, trusted, good friend of almost 20 years. I was able to rely on not only the many talents mentioned above, but I also came to appreciate other strengths—David’s solid good judgment, his editorial acumen, and his understanding of the deeper curricular and intellectual issues that lay behind what many perceived to be “only” faculty politics.

David was a member of the board of trustees of the Shansi Memorial Association and of the Oberlin Early Childhood Center. He was treasurer of the latter organization from 1990 to 1993 and served as chairman of its board. Also, he had a life outside of Oberlin. He served in various capacities with the NSF and the NEH. He led workshops for the Independent Colleges Association. And he gave lectures and invited talks at schools and colleges here and abroad.

Finally, as any who knew him recognized, David was a gifted writer, a wonderful story-teller, and a thoroughly entertaining public performer, whether chairing a faculty round-table discussion at student orientation, reporting on curricular developments to the board of trustees, or emceeing the piano department’s annual commencement extravaganza.

Although David had periods of good health which permitted his engaging in vigorous athletic activities (he was once quoted as saying, “I do not play squash to ensure my health. I play squash to celebrate my health.”), he struggled with illness from the time of his youth and throughout his life. More than once he had to take sick leave from his duties at Oberlin. He met these challenges bravely and uncomplainingly. I believe that this experience gave him a strong empathy for the challenges and struggles of others. David was an extraordinary person in many ways. He had a great gift for friendship. We will miss him.

Al MacKay is professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Oberlin. This Memorial Minute was adopted by a rising vote of the General Faculty of Oberlin College on April 16, 2002.

back to top